Hyperion Records

The Serenade was written on 24 April 1917. When one considers that Bowen had been invalided home from France only the year before, having witnessed things of which he seems barely to have spoken subsequently, this introspective, apparently anodyne music takes on more disturbing possibilities. On the surface, the Serenade is simply a poetic study in violin double-stopping. It proceeds doggedly but with a kind of pre-echo of the bleak, 'Alt Wien' nostalgia conjured in waltzes by such pianist-composers as Leopold Godowsky and Mischa Levitzki, where the passing of an old order is evoked in music of poignant understatement. Bowen seems to have viewed composition itself in a generally Platonic light, valuing the spiritual consolations attending its pursuit and arguably setting out in his work to articulate his own sheer love of music, rather than feeling any specific compulsion to lay bare some inner self. But some may sense in the commonplaces of the Serenade a latent tension, with the romantic escapist’s wish not to bear ‘very much reality’ coming under pressure from what Dante Gabriel Rossetti called ‘… a shaken shadow intolerable, / Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen’.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2013

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